Date of Award

August 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Food Studies


Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern


labor process, service work, sociology of work, tips, wages

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


As of 2020, millions of restaurant workers across the U.S. labor for an hourly wage below— even substantially below—the ordinary federal minimum wage. These workers earn a significant portion of their incomes in gratuities, directly from the customers they serve. The special legal status of tipped workers is a consequence of a 1966 amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act, which instituted a federal subminimum wage for tipped workers. While some states and jurisdictions have implemented their own higher tipped wages or eliminated the tipped wage entirely, the federal tipped wage has remained frozen for 31 years at $2.13 per hour. The latter half of the 2010s saw a resurgence of anti-tipped wage campaigns, which highlight the connection between this wage and the perpetuation of inequality and racial and gender hierarchies. These campaigns have met with a smattering of successes and a wave of industry backlash—from restaurant employers and workers alike. In this thesis, I attempt to unravel the strange history and knot of interests at the heart of the tipped wage, and look to the tipped labor process itself to begin to answer a central question: why would any workers oppose a wage increase from their employers? From this ethnography of restaurant work, and surveys and interviews with tipped restaurant workers, emerges a picture of entrepreneurial individualism in the front-of-house—one that is, I argue, distinctly at odds with contemporary nonprofit-led anti- tipped wage mobilizing.


Open Access



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